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After Formal Request from the NHTSA, Tesla Says It Is Recalling 134,951 Vehicles

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On January 13, in an unusual procedure, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Transport Canada's U.S. equivalent, formally called on Tesla to recall vehicles because it deemed certain 2012-2018 Model S sedans and 2016-2018 Model X SUVs to be a safety concern.

Typically, manufacturers agree to make voluntary repairs before the agency makes a formal request. NHTSA had asked Tesla to respond to its request by January 27, but Tesla agreed the same day the request was made, the agency confirmed.

Tesla will recall a total of 134,951 vehicles with touchscreens that could fail. The agency said the screen failures pose significant safety concerns, including the loss of images from rearview cameras and windshield defogging and defrosting systems that “may decrease the driver’s visibility in inclement weather”.

Tesla stated in its application to NHTSA that “in the interest of bringing administrative closure to the investigation and to ensure the best ownership experience for our customers,” it has agreed to a voluntary recall.

NHTSA opened an investigation in June 2020 into complaints that failures in the media control unit (MCU) resulted in the touchscreens not working. The agency reported that other automakers had issued numerous recalls for similar safety issues related to touchscreen failure.

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Tesla Model S
Photo: Tesla
Tesla Model S

NHTSA said last November, in an update to its investigation, that it had reviewed 12,523 inquiries and complaints on the issue. It added last month that “during our review of the data, Tesla provided confirmation that all units will inevitably fail given the memory device’s finite storage capacity”.

According to numerous complaints, Tesla has demanded that owners pay to replace the device once the warranties expire. Now, Tesla says it will replace the defective part and refund vehicle owners who paid to replace a defective part due to wear and tear.

Tesla acknowledged the problem with the screen, but stated that in the event the display did not work for the rearview camera, “the driver can perform a shoulder check and use the mirrors. If the screen is not visible to control the climate control and defroster settings, the driver will be able to manually clear the windshield”.

The recall will kick off on March 30. NHTSA has requested the return of 158,000 vehicles, but Tesla said the campaign would not include some vehicles with enhanced processors built after March 2018.

Tesla said 88 percent of U.S. owners have received online updates of certain features that can be lost if the displays fail.